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Charles Solomon’s Animation Year End Review 2015

Charles Solomon's Animation Year End Review 2015

Although he wrote them in 1859, Charles Dickens
might have been thinking of animation in 2015 when he penned the celebrated
lines, “It was the best of times, it
was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of
foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it
was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of
hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing
before us…”

Once again, animated
films accounted for more than 10% of the total domestic box office. For better
or for worse, 2015 was largely a year of franchises: Moomins, Dragon Ball Z,
Naruto, Sponge Bob, Minions and Chipmunks all returned to the screen. Some of
the repeats were lively reboots that gave audiences exactly what they wanted
from well-loved characters.
Other had all the pizzazz of warmed-over oatmeal.

The emphasis on familiar
properties made the original films stand out all the more prominently, notably Inside Out, The Boy and the Beast, When
Marnie Was There
. Remarkably, there were two films, Shaun the Sheep and Boy and
the World,
done entirely in mime. They provided a welcome reminder of how
effective animation can be without dialogue–especially at a time when so many
filmmakers seem intent on talking the viewer’s ear off.

Looking over a year that
see-sawed between Light and Darkness, I’m once again presenting awards for the
best and worst of 2014, named for the ultimate animation APM, Mikiko “Kuromi” Oguro.

AGE
OF WISDOM DEPARTMENT

inside-out
Good job, Pete!

Pixar’s Inside
Out
opened on Father’s Day weekend to deservedly ecstatic reviews and $90
million plus at the box office—the second-highest opening for a Pixar film
(after Toy Story 3).

Inside
Out
went on appear—deservedly—on many critics’ Top Ten
10 lists. Pete Docter and his crew really knocked this one out of the park: Let’s
see if it gets the Best Picture Nomination it deserves.

 

Diversity

DreamWorks
Animation named producers Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria co-presidents of
feature animation on January 4. None of the articles about the lack of
diversity in the entertainment industry mentioned their promotion—or the
increasing number of women and minorities who are working in animation as
producers, department heads, inspirational artists and, yes, directors. For
years, animation was pretty much an old boys’ club, but that situation is
changing much faster in animation than in live action.

 

But is it Art?

An auction of more
than 250 puppets, maquettes, props, and original concept and production art
from LAIKA earned more than $1 million on Feb. 12. At later sale of artwork by
Heritage Auctions, a cel set-up of Bugs and Elmer in What’s Opera, Doc? went for over $20,000. The figures suggest that
the market for animation art has rebounded, but the high end market—when a few
people would spend more than $200,000 for a cel and background set-up—largely remains
a thing of the past.

 

Three Cheer for the
Irish! (1)

In March, the
government of Ireland issued four stamps honoring Irish animated films,
including The Secret of Kells.
  

song-sea

Three Cheer for the
Irish! (2)

In May, the
Irish Film and Television Academy named Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea best Irish film of 2015.
The only animated work in the best film category, Song of the Sea beat five live-action films.

And for the Norse!

In September, Torill Kove was awarded the Anders Jahre Prize for the Arts in her
native Norway on September 3. The nation’s most revered cultural prize is
awarded to Norwegian or foreign individuals or institutions that have made
outstanding contributions to Norway’s cultural life.

 

Wouldn’t it be nice
if the US government honored animators and animated films?

 

We’re in the Money (1)

Big Hero Six crossed the $200 million mark over the
holidays. The Lego Movie was the only
other 2014 animated film to do that well domestically. It went on to become the
top-grossing animated feature of the year, with more than $610 million
globally.

 

We’re in the Money
(2)

The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie: Sponge Out
of Water
exceeded all
predictions and opened at $55 million, nearly twice what the pundits predicted.
Score one for Bikini Bottom…and why does anyone take the box office predictors
seriously?

 

We’re in the Money
(3)

Despite mediocre reviews at best, Minions opened to a staggering $115
million. It went on to become
the third animated film to gross over $1 billion worldwide.

 

Eastward Ho!

In late July, Tian Xiaopeng’s Monkey King: Hero Is Back set a record for a animated film in China
at 620 Yuan(about $99.8 million), beating Kung
Fu Panda 2
. When will US viewers get a chance to see it?

homeHome, but Not Alone

Although it
garnered less-than-ecstatic reviews—a score of 47% of Rotten Tomatoes—DreamWorks’
Home took its opening weekend at $52
million, giving the studio a much-needed hit.

Doitashimashite,
Obama-san

When President
Obama welcomed Prime Minister Abe to the White House, he expressed thanks for
Japanese things Americans enjoy, including karaoke, anime and manga!

Is It on Russell’s
sash?

The Boy Scouts of
America announced it would begin awarding a merit badge in animation.

 

You Cannes-can

In May, the animated Waves ’98 by Lebanese director Ely Dagher won the Palme D’Or
for best short film at the Cannes Film Festival.

 

dragonballz

Super-Saiyans

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection of “F,” which opened in the US in August, reminded
viewers how much they love the adventures of Goku and the Z Fighters. It earned
more than $8 million, passing Miyazaki’s The
Wind Rises.

 

Heavy Metal

In a series of
theatrical screenings in October, audiences rediscovered just how exceptional a
film The Iron Giant is. (Good job,
Brad!) Alas, the Blu-ray won’t be released until sometime in 2016.

 

Welcome Back!

Adult Swim
announced Genndy Tartakovsky would do a new season of Samurai Jack in 2016. Set the Tivo!

 

Good Job, Sanjay!

Sanjay’s Super Squad was not only the best Pixar short in years,
it’s also one of the few Western animated films to draw on the rich visual
heritage of Indian culture.

 

Good news and bad
news

When Marnie Was There charmed audiences and critics alike. But
everyone was dismayed to learn it may be the last feature from the great Studio
Ghibli.

 

When Can We Get Tickets?

Although Hayao
Miyazaki remains officially retired, he’s hardly idle. He’s reportedly making a
new short film for the Ghibli Museum and at work on a nature retreat for
children in the virgin forests of Kume Island
(Kumejima), about 55 miles from Okinawa. Sign me up!

 

Happy Birthday…again!

The redoubtable
Tyrus Wong turned 105 this year–and remains as disarmingly modest and charming
as ever.

 

WINTER
OF DESPAIR DEPARTMENT

lego
The Dark Side (1)

If Strange Magic really did come “from the
mind of George Lucas” as the advertisements proclaimed, it must have been from
the lobe that brought us Jar Jar Binks. Elements from Frozen, Disney’s Tinker Bell films, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Beauty and the Beast, Blue Sky’s Epic, Fern Gully et al. had been trashmashed into an incongruous animated
juke box musical

 

The Dark Side (2)

Strange Magic
opened at $5.5 million–the worst opening in history for an animated film in
3000+ theaters (the previous record holders were The Wild Thornberries (2002) with $6.01 million and Quest for Camelot (1998) with $6.04
million). If you adjust for inflation, Strange
Magic comes off even worse. Last year’s disastrous
Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return opened
at $3.7 million but was in only 2,575 theaters.

 

We’re NOT in the
Money (1)

DreamWorks
Animation laid off 500 artists in January, closing the old PDI facility in the
Bay Area.

 

We’re NOT in the
Money (2)

Despite rave reviews—a 99% rating on Rotten
Tomatoes—Aardman’s Shaun the Sheep: The
Movie
opened to a disappointing $5.6 million. How could so many
people—including the many kids who love the “Shaun” TV show–miss such a
charming film?

 

We’re NOT in the
Money (3)

In late February,
DreamWorks took a $210 million pre-tax charge associated with
restructuring, while the poor performance of Penguins
and Peabody resulted in
impairment charges of $57.1 million. The Studio sold its Burbank campus for
$185 million to provide a cash infusion, and leased it back; in July, Sun Trust
resold it for $215 million. In August, the studio reported a second quarter
loss of $38.6 million.

 

Crying all the Way to the Bank (1)

In May, Harry Shearer announced he was leaving the
voice cast of the Simpsons—despite a reported offer of $14 million for two
years–because he wanted “freedom to do other work.” In July, he signed on for
two more seasons.

 

Crying all the Way to the Bank (2)

Academy members raised
a lot of eyebrows when they snubbed The
Lego Movie
and gave The Boxtrolls
an Oscar nomination. The Lego Movie
won the BAFTA, but lost the Golden Globe and the Annie Award to How to Train Your Dragon 2.

 

Eeny, Meanie…

Shortly before the Oscar ceremony, Scott Feinberg
of The Hollywood Reporter talked with seven Academy voters, most of whom
admitted they hadn’t watched all the animation nominees—but still voted in the
categories.

 

Next: Toccata
and Fugue
: The Feature!

Disney announced plans for a live action feature
based on the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence of Fantasia and one about Prince Charming.

 

D’oh!

In late June, GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz
released a video of himself supposedly auditioning to do voices for “The
Simpsons.” Many viewers wondered if he’d actually seen the show: not only were
his impressions terrible, his far right politics are completely at odds with
the humor on “The Simpsons.”

 

And finally, to this writer for being curmudgeonly
above and beyond the call of duty at times.

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